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Koch Lorber presents
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

"People only die of love in movies."
- Mrs. Emery (Anne Vernon)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: April 06, 2004

Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon, Marc Michel
Director: Jacques Demy

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:31m:18s
Release Date: April 06, 2004
UPC: 741952301493
Genre: musical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B+B+A- C-

DVD Review

Genre classification can frequently tell you more about the limits of the categories than about the work being described, so don't stop reading this review or avoid watching this movie once you learn this crucial fact: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is an opera. That doesn't mean you'll find huge ladies in Viking hats, or pouting tenors wildly overemoting; instead, it's a movie musical for those who may be suspicious of the form, an opera for those who run screaming from the room at the very word. It's a lyrical and touching bit of filmmaking, and it's particularly visually splendid.

The story is familiar and ordinary enough: young Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve), all of seventeen, and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), 20, are in love. She works in her mother's umbrella shop; he's a grease monkey, waiting for the inevitable day that his draft notice arrives. Geneviève's mother does not approve of the relationship, nor can she believe that someone so young can understand what it means to be in love; far more suitable, she figures, is M. Cassard (Marc Michel), who is rich and interested in Geneviève. But the love between Guy and Geneviève is pure and unconditional; it will be put to the test when the French Army packs him off to Algeria. As many soldiers have before him, he leaves his girl with something to remember him by—Guy is in basic training, and Geneviève is pregnant. Will she wait out Guy's tour of duty? Will Cassard, after helping the family out of a financial jam, come to the rescue again, as husband and father? Will that pure love stand up under the stresses of family, community, financial necessity?

It's the sort of conundrum that's a staple of both opera and soap opera, but here, this straightforward, conventional story is invested with so much empathy that it's made new. And even better: it's set to music. Writer/director Jacques Demy and composer Michel Legrand collaborated on one of the must beautiful scores ever written for film—it's more recitative than aria, and it's contemporary and classic without feeling archaic. Initially, the storytelling style may take some getting used to—what the hell is going on? Why are they singing? But it's easy to settle in to, and well worth the effort. Deneuve is especially lovely and warm in this, one of her first renowned performances; neither she nor any of the other actors did their own singing, but still, they're human and emotional in a highly artificial setting, which speaks well of their acting capacity.

Even more luscious than the music is the production design, which is nothing short of spectacular. Demy uses a bright, almost garish palette, with everything deeply saturated, but even more notable are his color choices. Each color comes in one shade exclusively, no matter what is in the frame: every blue in the film is the same shade of blue, for instance. It makes for extraordinary visual consistency and vibrancy—in a single shot, for instance, a scarf, a drink, a rain slicker and (bien sur) an umbrella are exactly the same hue of yellow; in others, the patterns of the women's dresses match exactly in tone and saturation level the colors of the wallpaper of the rooms in which they live. Maintaining this kind of control over a shoot and a complete production is absolutely extraordinary, and the care that went into this is tremendous, and obvious—even a retriever passing through a frame matches precisely the other browns in the rest of the picture. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of the yummiest pieces of eye candy you'll ever see.

It's also decidedly a chick flick, and only the most hard hearted will have dry eyes throughout. It's an ambitious piece of work, and even if it doesn't send you out in search of the latest Verdi recording, it will likely expand your idea of what a musical is, or can be, or should be.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: You'll see occasional spots and glitches in the print, which is unfortunate; but the transfer is certainly respectable, preserving the vital and carefully planned color scheme of the picture in all its Technicolor glory. It seems to have been spruced up a bit, though without the full going-over that could make this look more glorious still, no doubt.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Both French tracks sound fine, with greater ambiance in the new 5.1 Dolby mix, which is the recommended way to go. The whole movie of course was dubbed, which means that the musical score is close to seamless.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Children of the Century, On Guard, Very Annie Mary, God Is Great, I Am Not, Safe Conduct
1 Featurette(s)
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Elaborate documentation and consideration of the disparate production elements on this film would have been enormously welcome, so what's here is a serious disappointment. The only extra to speak of is an excerpt (07m:29s) from Agnès Varda's The World of Jacques Demy, featuring interviews with Legrand, Deneuve, Castelnuovo, and the director's widow on the making and impact of the picture. It's something, but not much. You'll also find a quintet of trailers, and a link to the Koch Lorber website.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

A lovely, genre-bending, heartbreaking film with a glorious transfer, though the paucity of extras is a serious disappointment.


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